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Op-Ed: “Population Implication in American Samoa”

According to the US Census, the population of American Samoa has declined since the previous count in 2000. Despite the decrease, this effect introduces its own set of social, economic, and environmental issues and associated anthropogenic impacts. In American Samoa, we continue to face air and water pollution, traffic, crowded classrooms and hospitals and shortages of food. 

Despite decrease of total population numbers, it is the collective lifestyle choices that a community makes that mostly affect our surroundings and our own quality of life (e.g. the lifestyle of an individual from a consumer society has a larger impact than a person that lives a sustainable lifestyle [e.g. American vs. Caveman]). On an island such as American Samoa, resources continue to decline, whether or not the population increases or decreases due to unsustainable modern lifestyles. Key elements of natural resources such as ground water, forests, marine fisheries, and petroleum are limited, and a species can only grow as much as their resources will support them.

Impacts on our environment, society, and economy are caused by many things, but the three larger impacts American Samoa faces today are: the limited supply of local resources (and resulting reliance of external factors), climate change, and pollution.

American Samoa’s population has reached a level where the amount of local resources needed to maintain its population and lifestyle exceeds what is locally available. Most of American Samoa’s food supply comes from outside the Territory, as well as imports of medical supplies, building materials, petroleum, and even federal funds from the United States Government. Today, we require food shipped in from thousands of miles for our survival.

Climate change can increase or decrease rainfall, influence agricultural crop yields, affect human health, cause changes to forests and other ecosystems, and even impact our energy supply. As members of modern day society, American Samoans contribute to the climate change problem by burning fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the air, which in vast amounts prevents the Earth’s heat from escaping into space, and increasing the overall temperature of the Earth.

We burn fossil fuel to operate machines and cars. Every appliance in every household utilizes fossil fuels by consuming energy, as we burn fossil fuels to generate power in American Samoa. The environmental impact of transportation is significant because it is a major use of energy, and burns most of the world’s petroleum. Everyone living in American Samoa is responsible for contributing to the problems associated with climate change. We decide to drive a car instead of catching the bus, walking, riding a bike, or carpooling.

American Samoa’s population uses modern resources, which increases the amount of waste or pollution in our air, water, and land. Sewage, trash, non-point sources (e.g. oil from cars) causes negative impacts on our environment (i.e. coral reefs) and quality of life.  Human impacts on coral reefs are the major cause of reef destruction, including pollution. We rely on our environment for survival. Without coral reefs we would have no fish.

Despite a decrease in population, negative impacts continue through our daily lifestyles. Without locally produced goods we are vulnerable, due to our high dependence on imported goods, fuel and food. As the effects of climate change increase locally, managing our energy usage and our natural resources will be essential. To help our environment and quality of life we need to work together for solutions. Solutions to decrease pollution and mitigate climate change impacts are already being discussed and implemented by agencies around the island.  Everyone can do their part to help reduce the population’s effect on the planet, by carpooling, growing an edible garden, disposing trash properly, and turning off electricity (lights/fans) when not in use. Every time you conserve energy, you’re burning less fossil fuel. We need to protect our islands, for our future, for our children, and our land, sea, and air of which we are all stewards.